Get To Know: Ashley Cooke [Exclusive Interview]

"Don’t plan too much, just allow life to surprise you- and it will."

Written by Jeremy Chua
Get To Know: Ashley Cooke [Exclusive Interview]
Ashley Cooke; Photo credit: John Shearer

Planning is good, forecasting the future is wise and setting oneself up for success is important. That’s something many are taught from a young age to avoid living life on constant tenterhooks. But, sometimes, just sometimes, beautiful, amazing and nearly-unfathomable things can happen when one lets go of their plans to let life unfold surprises. This certainly is the story of country newcomer and one of the foremost TikTok stars in the format, Ashley Cooke.

Life truly has been a series of surprises for the Florida native. After winning Belmont University’s Country Showcase in 2019, she was ready to put the pedal to the metal to launch her music career in 2020. However, a global pandemic abruptly halted that, leaving her high and dry for an alternative opportunity with plans scraped. That’s when she took a stab at the video-sharing social media app, TikTok—and a chance upload during her quarantine changed the trajectory of her career.

Now, Cooke boasts a whopping 7.8 million likes and 650K followers on TikTok, and has amassed over 1.6 million monthly listeners on Spotify alone, with rotation support from SiriusXM’s country station, The Highway. After massive successes with her preceding releases such as “Already Drank That Beer,” “Sunday Morning Kinda Saturday Night,” and “Jealous Of The Sky,” the emerging singer/songwriter has just released “Good Goodbye”—a plaintive new song featuring one of Cooke’s dream collaborators, Jimmie Allen.

Sounds Like Nashville got to chat with Cooke recently to find out more about her backstory, musical inspirations, collaborating with Jimmie Allen and more. 

Introducing the next promising artist you have to “Get To Know”: Ashley Cooke.

SLN: What was life like growing up somewhere between California and Florida?

Ashley Cooke: I moved around a lot growing up. I think I had every time zone in the US! I was born in Wisconsin, moved to California, and then to Florida, and then to Nashville when I was 18. So I kinda made my rounds! (laughs) I went to Belmont University and studied Communications & Marketing. Nothing related to music, contrary to popular belief. In my senior year at Belmont, I applied for the Country Showcase, which is a showcase the school puts on that is all student-run and previous winners [include] Florida Georgia Line and Brad Paisley. I went on a whim, applied as a non-music major, which is super rare, got in and I won the competition. It was crazy! I was really pumped to start doing the artistry and music full-time post-grad and around that time was when the pandemic hit. I was like, “OK, I can’t really do the traditional ways of being an artist,” which is playing shows and writing sessions and being with other humans in the city. So, I went down to Florida to quarantine with my family for a little while, and that’s when I got onto TikTok. I made one video and it took off with two million views in a couple of days. It was insane. [That’s when] I caught the bug and started creating on TikTok, which led to a ripple effect to where I am today.

How did you get into country music?

I listened to Motown with my parents, but I always wrote in my journal, wrote poetry and always loved to write lyrics, with the storytelling leaning into country. [As I got older] I got into country and listened to Florida Georgia Line, Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan. I was just obsessed with that era of country music.

Who are some artists today that inspire you?

Man, that’s a great question. I love Dan + Shay. I’m a big fan of those guys. I also love Thomas Rhett. He’s just a good person, and that reflects in his music and who he is as a human. I’m a big fan of Maren Morris as well and just, what’s happening in country music right now.

You mentioned you won Belmont University’s Country Showcase (in 2019). Would you talk about that whole experience and how it helped your career?

Yeah! The Belmont Country Showcase is no joke. It’s 3,000 people in the Curb Event Center, which is our basketball arena. It’s two originals and one cover song, and I did “The Middle” by Maren Morris [for the cover]. I met my current agent at the country showcase. She was a judge there! It’s like the best segue to help artists on the scene. It gives you some experience and gives you a big stage, which most students wouldn’t have played on before. It puts you in front of people and gets your feet wet a little bit in the performing world. It’s just one of the best things that Belmont does. It’s amazing. 

You are one of the co-founders of The 615 House on TikTok as well. How did that happen? 

TikTok is so crazy to me because I’d like to think I wouldn’t have gotten on it if it weren’t for the pandemic. The pandemic only gave us so many options to keep pursuing things in music and getting in front of people. After I got on TikTok and found some traction of my own, I saw Charli D’amelio and Addison Rae, these people who were on TikTok in a Hype House out in L.A., and I [thought], “Why is there not something that brings Nashville songwriters and artists together?” People are already so infatuated with Nashville and how it’s Music City and how you go into a room at 11 o’clock every morning to write a song with strangers. People are so infatuated with that. So, I called my friend Chris Ruediger, who’s the co-founder with me at the 615 House, and I was like, “Man, we got to start something like this.” At that time, there really weren’t that many people from Nashville on the app. It was maybe ten people that were in Nashville, on TikTok, really posting every day and building a fanbase. We ended up grabbing the people that we knew from our “For You” pages and who were local to Nashville or around the area. We got into a house and just started making content, which blew up into what it is now. It’s a really fun project [born] from quarantine and it’ll be interesting to see what we do with it post-pandemic. 

What are the plans with The 615 House now as we’re out of quarantine?

We’re mainly getting together on days that we can to make videos and collaborate like we used to. It’s a really great thing because now that the world is somewhat opened up again, these kids that were making content in their bedroom during quarantine are now signed to major record label deals, on tours and collaborating with huge artists. It’s tough to get together to make content now because we’re all so busy, but it’s also the best thing ever that we’re all busy.

I wanna talk about faith for a bit if you don’t mind. I was listening to your podcast interview with Spencer Crandall and you discussed the role of faith in your life. How do you stay rooted in it through the highs and lows of maybe even just this last year?

It’s crazy, because I didn’t really grow up in church. My parents were more so spiritual than religious. They never forced us to go to church. They allowed me to find my own legs in faith and what I believe and the God I believe in. That’s the best gift they ever gave me because now, being in music, being 24 years old, on my own and encountering new things every single day, I still have [my faith]. I didn’t have a relationship with God because of them, but because of me. I chose that, and I decided to find that on my own. I think I stay rooted by just involving God every day in my life and waking up praying and involving that in every thought process that I have.

Jimmie Allen and Ashley Cooke; Photo credit: Alex Ferrari

You just released your brand new single “Good Goodbye” with Jimmie Allen. Would you talk about the inspiration behind co-writing that track and how the collaboration with Jimmie happened?

I wrote that song with Blake Pendergrass, who also wrote “865” for Morgan Wallen and a bunch of other songs. He’s just on fire right now. Honestly when we co-wrote that together, it was a personal experience of mine and the breakup aspect of it. We went down a list of people that we wanted to collaborate with and Jimmie was my first choice, and he said yes! He added so much to it. The music video we have for it adds a whole new element to what the song means. I just love how the song is written in a way that you don’t really have to understand the reason why people have to say goodbye. It’s the universal kind of “this isn’t working, let’s just make it a ‘good goodbye.’ Let’s make it the best time having to work out that door.” And I love that, because people can put their own meaning and experience into that slot and relate to it. My dad has always said, “Love people on the way out just as much as you did on the way in.” I’ve always loved that saying because to me, it’s like, yeah, not everyone is meant to stay in your life forever. Some people are meant to be [in your life at different] seasons, and that’s OK. You can’t expect everybody to stay. If they don’t want to stay, you can’t force them to, so let’s make it a ‘good goodbye.’

Prior to that, you released “Already Drank That Beer.” It’s such an instant hit on first listen. Why did you want to cut that one?

Man, that song! It’s funny because this entire project was inspired by my relationships and what I’ve been through when it comes to love. This song just so unbelievably encompasses everything I wanted to say in a song. That’s why I love to cut outside songs too. I write [my own music], obviously, but I like to cut outside songs like “Already Drank That Beer” because I was able to hear that song and get hit by it just like a listener would, not as the artist singing it. It just wrecked me to my core. Some amazing writers wrote that song—Jessie Jo Dillon, Jessi Alexander and Wendell Moberly. The fact that they even let me cut that song is insane. That song just means everything and it says the things I should say, which I don’t know if I would have had the strength to write. 

Your song “Sunday Morning Kinda Saturday Night” is the one song that put your name music on our radar. Such a great one! Another one that you didn’t write, but was penned by Craig Wiseman and Matt Roy – two incredible writers in Nashville. What drew you to this song?

Honestly when I heard that song, it reminded me of all of my influences that I told you about, like Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean. It had all of their vibe to me. Matt Roy is one of my good friends. We’ve written other stuff for this project together. He’s incredible. I heard his voice on it the first time around. It was a guy singing the demo because it was a pitch for a male singer. I’ve always believed that the best songs win. Doesn’t matter if they’re written for a guy or girl. It’s just good songs, period. I felt that this song just sounds like something I’d want to say. It reminds me of my hometown and moments I had during a breakup. It really hit me in the right way where it had to be my song and I hoped they would let me cut it, which they did. 

Our debut release was the poignant song, “Jealous of the Sky.” It’s such an emotional one about loss, grief and hope. I know you heard yourself on the radio for the first time with that song too. Would you talk about that?

“Jealous of the Sky” was one of the first songs I ever put out. I co-wrote it with Bridgette Tatum, who is a friend of mine. We’ve been friends for a long time and she also knew him because we had been friends since we were kids. We wrote it because I lost my best friend to cancer when I was 18. His name was Adam. I’ve written songs my whole life. Sometimes I’d write a song everyday that would touch on a different emotion. But for whatever reason, I just couldn’t write about losing him. It was a weird wall that I had built. So, I was at Bridgette’s farm and it was one of those things like a divine influence. It just happened. We started talking about it, I told her the idea I had in my phone and [the song] just fell out of us. Honestly, I wasn’t going to put it out. As writers, just like things you write in your journal, there are things you want to keep private to help you process what’s going on. I don’t know. I just didn’t think I was going to put it out. But, I put a clip of it on TikTok and everybody was like, “I need this song,” or “this reminds me of my mom that passed away, my brother, my cousin,” whatever it is. So, I put it out. It was just crazy hearing it on the radio too. I was in South Florida where I met my best friend who passed away, with another one of my best friends in the car when the song played. I’m not a crier, but I was balling! (laughs) It was one of the most special moments that I’ll never forget, ever. 

Now, I know you’re hitting the road with BRELAND in September! Are you just teeming with excitement to go out on tour soon?

Absolutely! I go live on TikTok pretty much every Monday night. It’s funny because you see regulars that come on, and I’ve seen some of their usernames every time I go live. It’s cool now that I’m hitting some of their cities [on tour], they’ll be able to come out and see me play. It’s my first tour ever, and it’s also BRELAND’s first tour, so it’ll be a lot of fun! I’m just excited to get out there and get a vibe from what touring is like and play with a live band. It’s gonna be a really fun time! 

Do you and BRELAND have a collaboration in the works?
We’ll see! We’ve written together a good bit, and he’s a phenomenal artist, writer and singer. Nothing’s currently in the wheelhouse, but there very well could be. So, we’ll see!

Lastly, in the past year or so, you launched The 615 House and garnered TikTok fame, which then translated to a growing fan base along with SiriusXM The Highway and other DSPs supporting your releases. So, what would you say has been the biggest life lesson for you? 

That’s a really really great question. This is going to sound so bizarre, and I hope I say this correctly, but don’t plan too much. I think for a long time, and it’s natural as humans to want to plan everything. We have our five-year plan, ten-year plan, and all these things planned out, and then it all completely goes to sh*t. My plan graduating from college was to get a record deal, get on a massive tour and just do a totally different path. The quarantine happening and getting on TikTok and all of that wouldn’t have happened if I was so set in my plan. My manager would probably yell at me for saying that because she’ll be like, “We have to plan!!” (laughs) But life is so much fun when you allow it to surprise you and if you put your head down, grind, be the best at what you want to do, that’s all you really can do. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned: don’t plan too much, just allow life to surprise you – and it will.